The Croods

Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener | PG |

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ANIMATED

The Croods are beasts—grunting, grasping, violent Neanderthals who live in constant fear. "Never not be afraid," dad Grug (Cage) drills into the rest of the clan as he shoves them back into their cave. But those are the good points. The worst thing you can say about the Croods is that they have terrible timing—just like their movie.

The clock is running out on Grug and his way of life as tectonic plates shift, causing earthquakes and lava flows that force the family out of the cave and into the world. That's fine by daughter Eep (Stone), who's looking for change as she chafes under her dad's thumb. The problem is that the movie arrives a year after the last Ice Age, which had an all too similar plot, if you catch my continental drift. Plus The Croods doesn't do much with its stale road-trip story, though kids will dig the slapstick humor.

What does work are the vocal performances—especially from Cage, the effervescent Stone, and Reynolds as Guy, the modern dude who steals Eep's heart—and the animation. Brilliant 3-D graphics paint such vibrant scenes of prehistoric beauty, they remind me of Avatar. If the rest of The Croods had been this inventive, it might've been a timeless classic. Instead, it's a caveman-come-lately.

Spring Breakers

James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez | R |

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COMEDY-THRILLER

As morally bankrupt, misogynistic odes to violence go, Spring Breakers is well done. That doesn't mean it should have been done at all. Former Disney princesses Gomez and Hudgens play half of a foursome of college friends, three of whom rob a chicken joint to fund their Florida party break. Director Harmony Korine's scenes are so artfully shot, they're poetic. It's his taste that's gross, as scores of girls, topless as often as not, writhe around in beer-drenched insanity for his lurid lens. Franco shows up as wannabe thug Alien, hilarious with his grill and cornrows, totally in on the joke. I just can't shake the feeling that we're the punch line.

Admission

Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin | PG-13 |

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COMEDY/DRAMA

While this applicant for your movie going choice has fine credentials, I simply cannot recommend it. The plot showed real potential: Fey stars as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer who once gave up a son for adoption. Rudd plays John Pressman, a high school teacher who thinks his student, gifted senior Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), is Portia's son. The situation is ripe for an ethics seminar (Should Portia help Jeremiah get into Princeton?), but it's not funny. Plus, the film commits the rom-com sin of humbling a smart woman so she can get a man. At best it deserves a cable wait-list.

The Sapphires

Deborah Mailman, Chris O'Dowd | PG-13 |

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MUSICAL COMEDY

It takes a lot of heart for a group of Aboriginal sisters to croon country music to a white audience in Australia in 1968. What they need, though, is soul. That's where Dave Lovelace (O'Dowd) comes in as their new manager, introducing the ladies to Motown and booking them on a tour of war-torn Vietnam. The trip, like the film, gets bumpy, dipping into clichés from band tension to drugs. But The Sapphires (based on a true story) is still lovable thanks to its sparkling cast, notably O'Dowd's boozy Dave and Mailman as the no-nonsense big sister. And then there's the music—from Otis to Aretha, it's impossible to sit still.

On Dec. 18, 1975, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz and her three children moved into a stately Dutch Colonial in Amityville, N.Y. At just $80,000, it was a steal—because the house came with a grisly past: A year earlier six people had been murdered there. Just 27 days later, the Lutzes fled in terror.

What happened in between has been the subject of controversy and myth, inspiring a bestseller, 10 movies and a lifetime of anguish for the oldest of the Lutz kids. Danny, now 47, tells his story for the first time in the documentary My Amityville Horror. "No matter what you believe about the haunting, [Danny] clearly believes it happened," says director Eric Walter. "For him the trauma is all too real." In the film, an intense Lutz describes horrors both supernatural—being thrown up the stairs by a disembodied force—and earthly. He alleges that his stepfather George abused him. "What he really has been haunted by is his stepfather," says Walter. (George and Kathy are deceased, and Danny's siblings refused to participate in the project.) Whatever spooked the Lutzes seems to have left with them: The house still stands, and no subsequent residents have reported sightings. So was the house possessed? After nearly a decade studying the subject, Walter still isn't sure. "There's no way any of us here today can get the absolute truth," he says. "I'm not sure it exists."

—OLIVER JONES

The Host is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight follow-up. Are you game for Twihard-type mania?

I'm excited. I hope this film has that amazing success. I'm a little terrified for [18-year-old] costar Saoirse [Ronan] and how she's going to deal with all of the attention!

You play an intimidating alien known as the Seeker. Did you have to prepare physically?

Because the world [in the film] has become so peaceful and without war, I didn't want it to look like I was a killing machine. It was more of a challenge to keep the clothes clean because they were pristine white, and we were shooting in the desert. It wasn't my job ... but it wasn't easy!

You have such singular fashion sense. How do you make your choices?

I navigate to the same things: black, white or a bright color. Coming from modeling, fashion is something that was ingrained in me from the time I was 16. I think it's fun to have one of those things you can manipulate in life. If you want to seduce a man, you might wear a certain dress. Why not?

How do you like to unwind when you have time off?

I love to travel. [Boyfriend Joshua Jackson and I] do quite a lot. I want to get to know different cultures and feel most alive when I'm outside.

—JENNIFER GARCIA